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Response To Women's March Baby Trump Balloon Fundraiser Reveals Larger Divide Among Feminists

Richard Vogel
Activists inflate a Donald Trump baby balloon in Los Angeles on Friday, Oct. 18, 2018, ahead of a politically-themed convention. A GoFund Me to bring the balloon to Pittsburgh was cancelled last week.

Some local feminist activists say a fundraiser to bring a large balloon depicting President Trump as a baby to Pittsburgh's Women's March reveals a larger division between feminists in the city.

Earlier this month, a GoFund Me page to "Bring Baby Trump to Pittsburgh" went live, with a goal of $10,000. The large balloon has made appearances at several anti-Trump events over the past few years, including a pre-midterms rally in Chicago, Ill. and an "Impeachment Parade" in New York City.

Marie Norman of Squirrel Hill said she organized the fundraiser at the request of Pittsburgh Women's March leadership. Women's March director Tracy Baton said the fundraiser was meant primarily to raise money for other event-related costs, such as sound equipment and a stage. Baton said any funds collected not needed this year would have been used for future marches.

But Norman and Baton said they also wanted to bring something to this year's March that had become somewhat of a symbol of other anti-Trump events around the country.

"The Trump baby balloon was a hook for the broader fundraising effort but it was also a goal in itself," Norman said. "It represents, I think, resistance to Trump's style and his politics and I thought it was an appropriate and eye-catching symbol."

But comments quickly piled up on the fundraiser's page, with a few people calling the balloon a "disturbing" waste of money. Some commenters asked others to donate instead to local nonprofits that support marginalized communities.

"The Trump balloon would've always been a waste of money," said Brittani Murray, a local organizer. "Especially during a partial government shutdown that directly affects marginalized people, like black femmes, single mothers and trans women of color."

Pittsburgh Feminists for Intersectionality, a Facebook group with more than 800 members, released a statement opposing the fundraiser to WESA.

"Those funds would be better served if they were directed towards existing organizations that center and benefit the most marginalized, rather than the performative action of bringing the Trump balloon to Pittsburgh," the statement said.

Norman later updated the fundraising page to clarify that the balloon, with helium and transportation, would cost at most $1,500, and the rest of the funds would go to other event-related costs. 

Baton said this year's march is expected to cost around $4,000 to $6,000, though there's no official budget. She said the Persad Center, which itself has been criticized as not being inclusive enough, is one of the event's sponsors. But she added that she is likely to pay some costs out of pocket.

Baton posted last week on Facebook that some people had threatened to sabotage the balloon, so it will no longer make an appearance at the event. Norman posted on the GoFund Me that those who donated would get their money back if they requested. Norman said they also plan to pay out the contract for the balloon.

Pittsburgh Public Safety Spokesman Chris Togneri said police are aware of and investigating threats against a proposed prop for the parade. The nature of the threat is unclear.

Division among feminists in and out of Women's March groups across the country has been well documented. Across the country, people of color have expressed concerns that marches are not intersectional, and tailored to white feminists. Accusations of anti-Semitism have also roiled the March's national leadership.

Some, including Murray, have said Pittsburgh's Women's March excludes trans people.

"My main issue has been consistent over the past two years, which is a lack of representation and a lack of trans advocacy," Murray said. "Marches are quaint, but a direct ask and call to action will always be better."

Such accusations first emerged in 2017; as a result, Baton, a queer black woman, took over leadership of the Women's March. A second march dubbed "Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional" was held in East Liberty that year, organized by critics of the Women's March. 

Baton said leadership at the Pittsburgh Women's March is diverse and that this year's event will highlight a spectrum of voices.

"We will have speakers who are trans, we will have speakers within the Jewish community, we will have black women," Baton said. "The majority of the speakers are women of color."

The third annual Women's March will take place downtown on Saturday, Jan. 19, in concert with a national Women's March on Washington and other satellite marches across the country. In the past, the local events have drawn very large crowds extending several city blocks. More than 800 people have responded to a Facebook event for this year's Pittsburgh march saying they will attend; more than 5,000 additional people have responded as "interested."

Kathleen J. Davis covers news about just about anything at WESA. She’s also the primary reporter and producer of WESA’s weekly series Pittsburgh Tech Report. Kathleen originally hails from the great state of Michigan, and is always available to talk about suburban Detroit and Coney Island diners. She lives in Bloomfield.
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